Thursday, August 24, 2006

"Human Rights Watch" Watch 2
Maimon Schwarzschild

"Human Rights Watch Credibility -- Not So Good", writes David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy.  Human Rights Watch's reporting from Lebanon is evidently straight Hezbollah propaganda - crude and (in any other circumstances) almost comic.  (Remember Comical Ali?)

You won't be surprised if you have been keeping up with the transformation of Human Rights Watch into one more megaphone for the hard Left.  The same thing is happening, unfortunately, at many other "NGO" pressure groups, including Amnesty International, as Bernstein documents.

RightCoast readers won't be surprised about Human Rights Watch.  In December 2003 I had spent some time with a senior Human Rights Watch officer in New York, and I was shaken by the experience:

I've met one senior Human Rights Watch officer at several symposia in New York over the past few months, and I was genuinely taken aback at her visceral hatred not only for George Bush (that's to be taken for granted in these circles) but for the US more generally. Over the course of several hours of discussions, touching on a variety of events over many decades, she made it extremely clear that a "human rights problem" (past or present) exists for her only if America can be blamed for it. Quite simply, she has no interest in it if she can't blame America for it -- whether plausibly or, in many cases, utterly implausibly. She blames America first, last, and always. Not exclusively though. She also loathes the state of Israel, and expressed disgust at the existence of a Jewish state -- in any borders.

One knows in the abstract that many "NGOs", especially "human rights organizations", have now been mentally absorbed into the hard and enraged left. It's a worrying thing, given the influence many of these organizations have at the UN and elsewhere. Their influence, in many cases, draws on their past reputations -- deserved or otherwise -- for fairness or at least for being somewhat serious and sane. But many of these groups, Human Rights Watch unfortunately included, are increasingly far from being fair, or serious, or even sane. I would like to think that the grim, almost unhinged zealotry of my Human Rights Watch acquaintance is not the norm in these circles. Then again, I would like to think all sorts of things that, unfortunately, aren't so.

Here was my (full) post.  Do read the whole of David Bernstein's posts on Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

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Maimon Schwarzschild

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Nearly thirty years ago I complimented a lefty friend when Amnesty, of which she was a member, said something rude about a left-wing regime. I hate it when we do that, she said, but it's felt that we have to do it sometimes to preserve the appearance of being even-handed.

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 24, 2006 10:21:37 AM

Whose Law is it that any group not explicitly conservative will eventually become extremely Left?

Posted by: JorgXMcKie | Aug 25, 2006 1:46:15 PM

O'Sullivan's First Law

Posted by: JAG | Aug 25, 2006 1:51:58 PM

Seems 'progressives' have hopelessly corrupted and politicized the very organizations (UN Human Rights Commission, Red Cross, etc.) they want everyone to look to for moral authority. Worse, these institutions are now called as cyncial witnesses in a non-stop show trial of the very people who brought them to life (the West, and in particular, the U.S.) in a spirit of optimism, idealism and fair play.

What a disgrace.

Posted by: Cosmo | Aug 25, 2006 1:52:57 PM


I think what happens is fairly predictable. Essentially when an NGO gets large enough, there becomes a need for the NGO equivalent of "professional management". As a result, the organization becomes dominated by the NGO class. As a group, this particular class is remarkably homogenous in schools, social circles, career history, and, of course, political outlook. Its not so much a conspiracy as too insular a relationship. The only real solution would be meaningful reform of foundation, trust, and non-profit law, which there's no way in hell anyone could implement without one of the worst political battles ever.

Posted by: Bill Dalasio | Aug 25, 2006 1:59:12 PM

I've discussed this at Volokh, and I see no reason not to copy-and-paste my final post here. What I say about Amnesty International also counts for Human Rights Watch.

"... if Amnesty's reports are tainted by anti-Israeli bias then all of their reports must be considered suspect. I don't know about the CIA's human rights report, since I imagine they can collate their own data, but much of the content of the UK foreign office's annual HR report is based on information obtained by AI and HRW.

No matter what some have said, Britain conducts its foreign policy in light of the contents of this report. Amnesty does not decide British foreign policy, but decisions regarding authoritarian states such as Cuba are made while taking their HR offences into account. I imagine other states do likewise.

Discrediting Amnesty would serve to discredit their reports on the execution of homosexuals in Iran, or the repression of democracy in Myanmar, or the torture of dissidents in the 'Stans of central Asia.

Right-wingers have repeatedly attempted to smear Amnesty as anti-American, anti-semitic or, to quote the author of this post, "part of the international far left". They do this because some of AIs conclusions conflict with the narrative they want to project.

Amnesty, like the Vatican, may have no divisions at its command, but it is an invaluable instrument of soft power for democratic reform. The fact that the west cannot order AI to ignore issues it considers inconvenient is a benefit to the democracies of the world, not an infringement..."

Neither Amnesty nor HRW has any locus to concern itself with the moral reasons for war - in analysing the recent hostilities in Lebanon, neither organisation will comment on whether the attempted eradication of Hezbollah was justified. These are considerations for governments: human rights organisations exist to highlight human rights violations regardless of whether they are committed by democracies or terrorist groups.

I believe the apt aphorism here would be "Be careful what you wish for."

Posted by: Flying Rodent | Aug 25, 2006 2:44:02 PM

And Bill, I believe "capture by the NGO class" is one major reason John Olin put an expiration date on his foundation.

Posted by: Old Grouch | Aug 25, 2006 3:00:15 PM

This is an old one, but it really should be called "Amnesty for those who sing the Internationale."

Posted by: Gandalin | Aug 25, 2006 3:01:56 PM

Hezbollah launched about 4,000 anti-personnel rockets aimed at civilians in a free fire zone. Every one of those launches was a war crime. Where was HRW? Cheering them on, I suppose.

Posted by: Gandalin | Aug 25, 2006 3:03:34 PM

Bat's thesis: Reports from a discredited source are better than no reports at all. Discuss.

Posted by: Old Grouch | Aug 25, 2006 3:06:40 PM

Old Grouch,

There cannot be any doubt that Israeli actions in Lebanon have violated the treaties to which it is signatory. These include the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, The Geneva Conventions, International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Whether you believe these actions are justified or not are irrelevant in the eyes of international law, but I am not concerned by the human rights violations of Israel any more than those of Iran or Sudan.

The attempt to smear AI and HRW because they have drawn conclusions you do not agree with is despicable and counter-productive. Both of these organisations are committed to protecting human rights in all countries on Earth - the fact that you are so outraged by the ludicrous anecdote above indicates that you don't often read their reports on Iran, Cuba, Syria, Egypt, Russia, China, North Korea or Myanmar.

Posted by: Flying Rodent | Aug 25, 2006 3:22:42 PM

Lefties tend to congregate where wealth is consumed rather than created. Government, education, the U.N., NGOs in general.

Posted by: Paul | Aug 25, 2006 3:28:47 PM

The attempts by FR to defend Amnesty is to assume that they provide the only reputable reports of torture or mistreatment. Unfortunately for the author, this is not the case. And if it were the case, would be immaterial to the argument. To say that a stopped clock is right twice a day is no argument for attending to the clock.

You state: "Right-wingers have repeatedly attempted to smear Amnesty as anti-American, anti-semitic or, to quote the author of this post, "part of the international far left". They do this because some of AIs conclusions conflict with the narrative they want to project."

I’m afraid this is not an argument. It is an ad hominem attack since it assumes that these “right wingers” are simply trying to “spin” an issue. If you are going to persuasively address an issue, it is useful to address the issue. For example, it would be useful to point out the AI denunciation of Hezbollah attacks on civilian targets by unguided weapons, the addition of ball bearings, the use by that organization of human shields, … (in equal length and emphasis) to persuade us that AI has not taken a position.

Perhaps the MSM has chosen not to publicize these denunciations of Hezbollah because of its bias? Possible. Why not show us?

Posted by: moneyrunner | Aug 25, 2006 3:37:06 PM

AI is gravely troubled by the trial of Saddam Hussein.

No word yet from AI on his victims.

Posted by: John Salmon | Aug 25, 2006 3:53:59 PM

Moneyrunner - this is why the blogosphere is regarded as the domain of morons. You have Google at your fingertips but you can't even be bothered to verify your statement before you post it.

And Paul - Amnesty has condemned Hezbollah in the past and it states clearly in its report that it will address Hezbollah in a seperate report.

I am far more inclined to trust Amnesty's integrity than I am that of, say, the Instapundit, who quoted Amnesty's report on the repression of women in Iran today without question. This only two days after he had linked to the Volokh condemnation of Amnesty as a tool of the "international far left".

This is why I say that the right of the blogosphere is dishonest in its treatment of human rights organisations - it cherry-picks those reports it likes and attempts to smear those it doesn't.

This does nothing to assist the advancement of international recognition of human rights.

Posted by: Flying Rodent | Aug 25, 2006 4:09:06 PM

This is nonsense:

"There cannot be any doubt that Israeli actions in Lebanon have violated the treaties to which it is signatory. These include the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, The Geneva Conventions, International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child."

FLying Rodent would have you believe that these treaties make it impossible to wage war under any circumstances. It is evident that the Geneva Conventions were prmulgated to make war-making possible, not to outlaw it altogether.

Hezbollah fighters are not protected by the Geneva Conventions. They are not in uniforms and they do not represent a signatory State. Under the usual laws of warfare, irregular terrorists are shot on sight.

But no matter, c'est la lutte finale, groupons-nous et demain, l'Internationale sera le genre humain!

Posted by: Gandalin | Aug 25, 2006 4:21:35 PM

Old Grouch,

Absolutely. Personally, if I'm ever rich enough to create a foundation, I'd consider a similar approach. That said, courts have been increasingly willing to allow foundations to ignore elements of their initial charter. So, we can't really say with certainty that taking the Olin approach is a guarantee.

Flying Rodent,
Before you start identifying the blogosphere as the domain of morons, you might want to take a quick peek in the mirror. Moneyrunner was specifically citing the case of Hizballah. The report you link to discusses abuses under Saddam's Iraq. When citing a link to call someone a moron, it helps to make sure you've gotten the right link.

Posted by: Bill Dalasio | Aug 25, 2006 4:32:43 PM

Sorry Gandalin, but nobody was talking about the rights of Hezbollah fighters. They give up practically all of their rights as soon as they take up arms for Islamism, because they are an illegal terrorist group.

Hezbollah has a maximum of 4,000 men under arms. They have practically no human rights, beyond the fact they cannot be executed without trial if captured.

The people we are discussing are Lebanese civilians. Bakers, builders, housewives, doctors, teachers, school children, soccer players, lawyers, car mechanics.

At some point, some joker will probably point out that many south Lebanese (i.e. Shia Muslims) support Hezbollah politically.

This does not mean that they are legitimate targets for bombing, unless you are Saddam Hussein.

Posted by: Flying Rodent | Aug 25, 2006 4:33:20 PM


I noticed my screw-up as soon as I'd posted. I guess having your idiocy exposed to the world is the price of airing your views in public.

Posted by: Flying Rodent | Aug 25, 2006 4:35:33 PM

I have a very bad reaction when someone uses the argument "there cannot be any doubt." It is usually a cover for "if you look at things my certain way, you will see them in my certain way."

Flying Rodent lands squarely in that. What he considers beyond doubt are actually highly interpretive and dependent on initial assumptions.

Yes, both HRW and AI do issue reports condemning other countries. I have visited their sites many times. Repeatedly, they report Western colds on a par with non-Western cancers. That is simply not good enough. If rights organizations are going to hold Western nations to pure standards regardless of context, then they certainly have no return argument when they are held to pure standards themselves.

Seeing that HRW and AI don't think it is reasonable to be held to such standards, they should ask themselves why.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot | Aug 25, 2006 4:38:58 PM

Flying Rodent,

"This does not mean that they are legitimate targets for bombing, unless you are Saddam Hussein."

I don't think any reasonable person can argue with that. Now, if you want the statement to have any relevance to the current discussion, please provide any evidence that Israel in fact targeted any of these bakers, builders, housewives, ... That innocent civilians sometimes get killed in war is hardly some sort of secret.

Posted by: Bill Dalasio | Aug 25, 2006 4:41:13 PM

Assistant Village Idiot,

Do you mean the colds reported in Sudan?

Or the very sarcastic letter Human Rights Watch wrote to Bashar Al-Asad, supreme tyrant of Syria?

Or, utterly fatal to this entire thread, the letter Human Rights Watch wrote to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding the conflict in Lebanon?

Yet again, a little Googling would have helped.

And you wonder why I cast aspersions on the right wing of the blogosphere.

Posted by: Flying Rodent | Aug 25, 2006 4:54:00 PM

"The fact that the west cannot order AI to ignore issues it considers inconvenient is a benefit to the democracies of the world, not an infringement..."

A "fact" that is not in evidence...and that is actually not a fact. The West is not unable to command AI's oversight, it is unwilling to. If Bush (or Cheney or Rove...or choose your candidate for the Prince of Darkness shamelessly manipulating all about him) were the neo-fascist monster that the Petulant Left accuses him of being, how long before AI analysts investigating the inconvenient would vanish in the night, to be seen again (if at all) in an Alaskan gulag?

Posted by: John "Akatsukami" Braue | Aug 25, 2006 4:55:06 PM

I think my main problem with AI and HRW is that they tend to release 500 pages of condemnations of the West, which are anywhere from straining at gnats to possibly legitimate abuses. They also tend to come out with these reports several minutes after abuse claims have been hurled by terrorist organizations/sponsors. Part of this is what Steven Den Beste called "Searching under the Spotlight". Reports against those same terrorist organizations/sponsors do occur, but to much less fanfare, are much less thorough, don't document down to the gnat level, and occur after a lot more time. Just reading the reports I get the feeling that they viscerally hate the West and any attempt by the West to react to the crimes committed against it by those terrorist organizations/sponsors. I also get the feeling that they don't expect terrorist organizations/sponsors to abide to the same level of human rights, so they can't bring themselves to condemn them with the same gusto or relish. It's as if they weren't interested in why the lebanese civilians were being killed - did the fact that Hezb intentionally positioned launchers in civilian areas, stored weapons in civilians residences, had headquarters under apartment buildings, etc. still meant that killing in an attempt to take out those Hezb resources were a war crime? Is it a war crime to kill a willing human shield? Such issues were not even considered in the Geneva Conventions as far as I can tell. Why were human shields willing to go to Iraq to attempt to stop US bombing, whereas none have ever offered to go to Israel to stop Hamas or Hezb bombing? It's easy to see that the Western powers would probably be deterred, where its enemies would have no such compunction. Yet AI and HRW condemn the former with far more venom than the latter. AI and HRW also need to be concerned about their perception, and they've been failing miserably for years, and at this point are worthy of contempt and disdain. We need other organizations to fill those roles, but I'm not sure if truly independent watchdogs are capable of being agenda free. Just my thoughts...

Posted by: Bryan | Aug 25, 2006 5:16:43 PM


Israel targeted the bakers, builders and housewives by deliberately bombing water pumping and filtration facilities, petrol stations and supermarkets. These are definitively civilian structures, and I am ready to listen to any evidence you have that can justify these actions.

This is before we begin to discuss the massive strikes on civilian city blocks.

There is a debate to be had whether airports, ports, a UN installation and warehouses filled with food count as military targets. I'm not particularly concerned by those, since the issue at stake is not Israeli war crimes, but malfeasance on the part of HRW.

What truly concerns me is the right-wing attempt to smear Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Posted by: Flying Rodent | Aug 25, 2006 5:26:33 PM